Today, we're going to talk about why I think couples counseling and therapy didn't really do the trick for me and Kurt, and why it may not for you either. To be clear: I’m not here to talk trash about couples counseling at all. I want to explain why I'm evolving a way of working with couples that is very different from anything that we were ever given. And why I think that that's more powerful.
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View the full show notes and transcript for this episode at https://lisenbury.com/episode/036
Hi, welcome to Sex.Love.Power. I'm your host, Michele Lisenbury Christensen. This podcast is where I convene in the conversations about love and sex that help powerful women and those who love them to create the intimacy and intensity they really want in bed and in life. Together, we navigate the tensions between our desire and our devotions, between our wildness and our security with our eyes wide open. This podcast is designed to help you create more closeness, ease, pleasure and justice in your relationship. And we do it by blending wisdom from the fields of sexuality and spirituality, trauma and self regulation, and intersectional feminism. I'm so glad you're here. So welcome back to my first episode in a while. I took a summer hiatus from the Sex.Love.Power. podcast. And it's been a really valuable for me to be able to retool and see how much my perfectionism has been getting in the way of me really conveying to you everything that I've learned in the last 24 years as a coach, and in what we celebrated on July 15, as 21 years of marriage, and kind of 24 years of committed relationship with this amazing man Kurt Christensen. I'm ad libbing this episode, which is not how I tended to do episodes in the past. I would actually write out a full on script for my episodes. And I'm going to try it differently this season. As we move into fall, I'm going to come up with my topic. And I'm going to have an outline and some ideas I want to share with you. And I'm not going to script it. And we will see how that goes. My guess is that it's going to be of even more service to you because I'll be more natural and a better conduit for whatever wants to get downloaded. So today, we're going to talk about why I think couples counseling and therapy didn't really do the trick for me and Kurt, and why it may not for you either (if it doesn't). So I don't want to talk trash about couples counseling at all. But what I want to observe is why I'm evolving a way of working with couples that is very different from anything that we were ever given. And why I think that that's more powerful. What I've come to see is that couples counseling comes out of the medical model. So, from the days of Sigmund Freud, psychiatrists were medical doctors, coming from the very masculine paradigm of the body as a machine that could be tinkered with the same way that you would repair a car, you could repair a liver or any other organ. And then as people talked to their doctors about emotional and interpersonal problems, some of those doctors started to specialize in psychiatry, in helping with problems of the heart and mind. The problem is, our hearts and minds are not machines, nor are our bodies. We are psychosocial, spiritual, multi dimensional creatures. And so many people have recognized that the medical model isn't the best model for creating optimal health physically. There are great things, you know, if I needed heart surgery, I would for sure want a surgeon who was really schooled in the mechanics of heart surgery. And for preventative care and our ongoing nurturing and optimizing my health today, I make use of a wide variety of supports that don't come out of that in a really cognitively oriented and somewhat mechanistic model. And what I've come to see is that my approach to relationship is not only feminist in the sense of placing relationality, ahead of right and wrong, ahead of just having cut and dried tools you're supposed to use or a right way and a wrong way to relate. But it's also more feminine just in how I work. I never wanted to be the person sitting in the room with people as the authority figure. And I for sure never wanted to diagnose and treat people as if they were diseases. So, this goes way back to college. When I was an undergrad, I went to the University of Puget Sound, and they had a honors business program. So that's where I started, but I also knew that I was really interested in psychology. And so I thought about changing my major to psychology, but the more I learned about the psychology department, the more I saw, oh wow, a lot of the classes you have to take are about abnormal psychology, studying really disturbed people with deep mental illness and studying the psychosis and the the problems out there at the ends of the bell curve that are very common but are significant departures from what most people are facing on an everyday basis. And I wanted to work with human potential. I wanted to work with human potential. I wanted to help individuals who were already pretty high functioning, to explore the edges of their capacity to become what they were designed to become. And I didn't see any way that studying rats in a lab, or studying abnormal psychology was gonna be of support in that. So the major that I added to my business degree was economics. So I graduated with honors in economics. And really, I fell in love with it, because it's the science of choice. It's really psychology on a different level, and more closely akin to what I really care about, which is recognizing that we're always optimizing for what we think will bring us the most utility (to use economic terms). So that was a fascinating four years. And then I did go on to get a Master's degree in psychology. But you know, even then, I didn't want to become a licensed therapist. When I went back to school for my Master's degree, I was already a coach and had been a successful coach for four years before I even started. So my master's degree was really just to supplement what I'd already learned from coach training and experience as a coach. And it did, it was tremendous. I went to such an amazing, Antioch University, such an amazing school for social justice. And the original Antioch in Ohio was one of the stops on the Underground Railroad. And a lot of what I learned in graduate school was that what I thought of as right and good, and what I thought of as progress, and as health was all situated inside the social milieu in which I had grown up. My race, and class, and gender, and my family's education level all informed what I thought of as normal, or right. And if we come at people thinking that where we're coming from is the right way, which certainly all white people are trained to do, "White makes right," then we do a disservice to everybody we encounter, because every one of us has our own beautiful constellation of facets. And so you know, what you might not know about me is my neurodiverse brain. You might not know by looking at me, if I did have a different gender identity, than you might suppose because I present in a fairly feminine way, I look like a cisgender woman. But what if I'm not and it's not? That's not very respectful to presume that. So that, in 2000, is when I started learning some of the things that have become much more mainstream and talked about just in the last couple of years. So that's really useful, but I never wanted to use my master's degree, to become someone who could diagnose people and look them up in the DSM, that big catalog of things that could be wrong with you. Instead, I've always used my education and my experience, to serve people to be their own authority, to find their own path through. And I use my long experience as an executive coach to help people operationalize what they know. Because don't we all have some idea of, for instance, healthful to communicate, or the kinds of habits that would allow us to call our partner early enough in the afternoon to give them a sense of what time we're going to be home, rather than waiting to call them until we're already late, you know, later than we expected or wanted to be later than they expected. And dinners already burning are a big mystery, and they're already frustrated with us? Don't we kind of know what to do? It's really about putting it into action. So that's what I emphasize, is the action, the habits, and I help people learn enough about the science of habits, and enough about what motivates them, that they're able to put in place the stuff that their partner has been telling them for years would be helpful. So it's a much more pragmatic and, I find, much more respectful approach than some of what I was taught about how to sit and just make space for somebody to talk about what's going on. That has its place, and that's really valuable. But what I love about what I do is that we create results. When people are willing to change behaviors, one little behavior at a time, then their results change in a big way. And that was really the basis for one of the best things I did this summer, which is create a new program called Make More Love, and it's a 30 day game. It just takes all that I've learned about habits and the simple daily actions that make the biggest difference in my life personally and in our couple and for my clients. And I boil it down into a fun game. And then this summer, people have been playing it under the name of Summer of Love. And in September, we're going to start offering Fall in Love, which is the same program, it's really the same game. If you just put dedicated attention on your relationship and just decide, I'm going to do one thing each day to make this relationship better, then you're going to create amazing things within 30 days. And maybe your relationship is challenged on the communication front. So you're going to do one thing each day just to communicate better. Or other people are challenged on the eroticism front. So I'm going to do one thing each day to turn myself on, to turn my partner on to create more chemistry between us. And there are a couple of other customizations that I help people make in the program so that you can specialize your daily actions to what your relationship really wants. And I give people all kinds of prompts, so that you don't have to decide what to do, you don't have to think up what would be better. I give you the kind of paint by numbers: if you do this every day, for 30 days, this one action repeated every day, that'll be really helpful. Or, here's a sheet with 30 different actions. Do this one on Monday, this one on Tuesday, this one on Wednesday. It's really, really simple. And each of these actions takes maybe five minutes, some of them are 30 second actions. So just doing a little something that puts a stake in the ground. So that's something that the kind of idea that a couples therapist or counselor might endorse, but in the model of, "Let's spend an hour together twice a month or every week, and all three of us will be talking about your relationship. And then we won't talk again until you come back together." Therapists are set up to really help people carry out the discoveries, you know, operationalize the insights they get inside couples counseling. So if couples counseling hasn't gotten you the results that you want, that's one of the reasons why. Another reason that couples counseling didn't get us the results that we wanted, is what I call the "itching, burning, swelling, dynamic", where people come in when their relationship gets bad enough that they're miserable, you know, when our communication has broken down, or we're in a sexual dry spell, or we're in conflict enough, or we're feeling like roommates enough, emotionally distant enough that we go, "We really have a problem here." One of us is thinking about divorce, or we might be a little earlier than that, where we just go, "I don't want this to get ugly, but it is not good right now." So, people wait until they're in a problem situation, then they go to counseling, and then the counseling starts to work. The conversations that you're having are more productive, and you start to see some things and you start to carry those out. And then "Oh, good, it's better. The itching and swelling has subsided." And then they leave. And that happened to me early in my relationship coaching, because I didn't know that people would do that with me, too. I was used to executive coaching clients who sort of knew that an executive coach was just a great resource to have the same way a dentist is a great resource to have. You keep going back, right? You don't get to where you're like, "Oh, yeah, my teeth are clean now." No, you keep investing. And so I didn't realize that I needed to help clients make the commitment to their relationship, and keep that long enough to get real concrete results. So people would go away the same way that Kurt and I had done. As soon as it got better, we would stop because, like, who wants to keep paying hundreds of dollars a session and schlepping over there and sitting down and spilling your guts and having these challenging conversations? If things are good enough, let's quit. So that's what a lot of couples do. And the result is they never really get down to the core of the issue, they just get a little bit of relief. And put a different way, it's not even so much about the core of the issue. They never really get up to the pinnacle of what's possible. So that's what I see now in my coaching is that we get to the core of the issue fairly quickly. I'm helping you look at the mental maps that you have of what relationship is supposed to look like and what relationship looks like inside of you. And you therefore bring that to your partner, you project onto your partner, the experiences that you've had in the past of relationship, and you make sure that it feels familiar, even if it doesn't feel good. So, we figure out what's going on pretty quickly. And then, what I do is really different than what I'd seen before is I turn that insight into a set of actions. And we have the structures and the accountability and the behavioral coaching just like I've always done with leadership clients. What we're checking in on each week is not the latest thing you're thinking about and feeling, necessarily, although, of course, we cover that too. But what we're really checking in on is how are you building what we drew a blueprint for? How are you creating more turn on, more communication, more closeness in your relationship? So it turns into a pretty concrete goal, just like anything else you might be doing: building wealth, getting stronger physically, decluttering your house. It's just action. It's pretty straightforward, pretty fun. And I support my clients to build ecosystems where deeper love and hotter sex and sweeter connection are all supported by everything around you: the people around you, the way your houses, how you structure your time, the things that you delegate to other people so that you have more space for love and connection with your partner. So it's very practical, and that helps people move further, but then we also raise their sights. So, one of the biggest challenges in the 21st century here is that our vision for what relationship could be is still stuck in the 20th century, at the latest. Our vision is framed by popular media, and by sort of the memories of past generations. You know, "Love, honor and cherish", "Till death do us part." People talk about wanting to be like their grandparents. But if you look underneath the surface of that, very few people are lucky enough to have grandparents who had a sexually fulfilling relationship all their lives, who shared power equally, who divided home responsibilities and money-making responsibilities in a way that was equitable for them both. You don't have that model, your ancestors didn't have the kind of relationship you want to have. And that's no fault of theirs, either. They didn't have the cultural shoulders to stand upon that you have today, they probably didn't have the prosperity that you have, and they probably didn't have the cultural support to think about what they really wanted and claim that. But today, we have these personal internal aspirations. But we have no external touchstones of people who've done it. Not no touchstones, but not as many as we might like. You can really see people who are fit. So you've got lots of great models for what fitness looks like, and how you can create it and what some of the stumbling blocks are to get there. So what I try to provide people is that same kind of thing that that you get for fitness at the gym, or with your trainer, or when you watch the Olympics. I bring people the stories, the community connections, and the templates for what is possible in a marriage that may outstrip anything you've ever seen in your real life erenow. Because we have to have more ambition if we're going to build higher. And that's what I help people do that therapy didn't even really try to help us do. It was really about problem solving. And actually, Kurt, and I have someone now who really does help us reach further. And I, I credit that to the way that we show up in our ability to reach further. But I don't know that the model or the dozens of counselors we saw when we were really struggling, really allowed for that kind of growth. So, I know I'm not the only one who helps clients in this way. But I think it's important that we talk about that, you know, what's your real point in working with somebody? Is it just to reduce the itching, burning and swelling? Or is it to build legacy love, which is what I call the outcome that my clients are working on. And it's called legacy love because we're looking at the legacy you were given. What is the painful intergenerational process of what you've been handed, not only by your parents, but by their parents and their parents? What has gone down through the years in your family? And we don't spend a ton of time analyzing that. But you can see it very clearly with just the right questions. And then we turn our attention to what kind of legacy do you want to leave the world? Whether that's through your own children, if you have them or the difference that you want to make on the planet. What do you want to be different for our Earth? For the people here, for other women, men, for children? And how will your relationship reflect that? So it's going from that inherited legacy to a very deliberate, intentional legacy that we're leaving and it elevates marriage from, "Yeah, this person I live with and this thing I'm trying to get through" to you out past the like fairy tales of, "Oh yeah, I want to feel deeply loved and fulfilled." Out into, "This is the crucible in which I can become someone who leaves a legacy that is beyond my wildest dreams. This relationship can actually spur me on to make a difference in a way I might not have otherwise imagined because of how I get to grow inside the relationship. My partner and I both get to overcome that. The limiting legacy we were given and create a limitless legacy of love." So thank you for joining me today. That's been my first, unscripted, off-the-cuff episode. I would love to hear how that lands for you and what arises for you when you think about the legacy you really want to leave, and the legacy that you have had, what works well, about what you've learned about love to date. And where are you left hungry or hurting? And what would you like to do to transform that? I'd love to hear what you're taking away from this episode, and what questions you have. Where do you feel this conversation in your body? My free Conscious Couples Circle is the place to continue our conversation. You can share your experiences, ask questions and get more actionable ideas for creating the love and sex you deeply desire in ways that evolve you both. It's all happening at society.lisenbury.com. That link is in the show notes for you. You know, new listeners need to hear what you're taking away, too. Podcast reviews are what really help others recognize how this podcast is different from other relationship and sex podcasts. So, thank you in advance for leaving a review right now in your podcasting app. While you're thinking of it, before you forget, with just a few words about what this show gives you. And Hey, have you subscribed to the podcast? You're gonna want to so you never miss an episode. Please go to the app where you listen, hit that subscribe button, and then you'll always get notifications of new episodes when they drop. Thank you so much for listening. I'm Michele Lisenbury Christensen and this has been Sex. Love.Power. I will see you on the next episode. And until then, may the light within you illuminate the world around you
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